What’s The Relationship Between Grief and Stress?

Unhappy young man sitting on bed with cup of coffee


After the loss of a friend or family member, sometimes it’s tricky to know if you’re grieving or stressed. While both are natural responses to the death of someone you cared about, here’s information so you can recognize the ways in which grief and stress are similar as well as different.

This article also includes information on broken heart syndrome, destructive ways to manage these feelings as well as constructive ways to deal with grief and stress.

How Are Grief and Stress Similar?


When you’re bereaved, you are mourning the loss of someone important to you. Common responses include: crying a lot, trouble sleeping, inability to concentrate and loss of appetite.

Grief can also negatively impact your body by exacerbating digestive problems and increasing inflammation, joint pain and headaches. Grief can lower your immunity. Most people will grieve a while and then get back to daily living.


When you experience stressors or challenges in your life, like losing one of your parents to cancer, it can lead to physical, mental, and emotional responses. Stress is your body's response to that strain or threat. Of course, how you perceive the stress will shape that response.

According to Yale University Health, common symptoms of stress include insomnia, inability to concentrate, aches and pains as well as diarrhea or constipation. They are similar as you can see to signs of grief.

How Are Grief and Stress Different?

Grief usually will occur in waves. It is often prompted by something that reminds you of your loved one and how much you miss that person. Then you return to feeling okay. That intense form of grief many feel at the beginning usually subsides as the weeks and months pass. Though you’re down and still miss that person, it’s not pervasive and persistent as depression usually manifests itself.

Stress can come and go, but its causes are different. Those who are stressed feel too much pressure often about finances, work or relationships. Stress triggers the body’s fight-or-flight reaction. When stress persists,  it is called chronic stress. Chronic stress shows up in the body as high blood pressure, heart disease and irritable bowl syndrome.

Broken Heart Syndrome

Being heartbroken after loss is no slight matter. The stress and grief can trigger broken heart syndrome. Also known as Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, signs of broken heart syndrome include chest pains, shortness of breath or an abnormal heart rhythm. Usually temporary, this condition can lead to long-term injury and impairment to the heart.

A study revealed an alarming trend. Middle-aged and older women are being diagnosed with broken heart syndrome up to 10 times more frequently than younger women and men.

Therefore it’s imperative to seek help from your physician and mental health counselors if your grief and stress persist.


If you still feel deep sadness after a loss, you may be experiencing something called complicated grief. Recently, it was officially diagnosed as prolonged grief disorder. If grief symptoms persist after about a year and negatively impact you everyday life, psychologists can likely help you.

Mental health counselors may prescribe complicated grief therapy, a type of bereavement counseling that includes cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)interpersonal therapy (IPT), and understanding of attachment theory.

Some of the techniques used in complicated grief therapy include telling the story of the person’s death, separating the grief from the trauma, organizing grief, dealing with guilt and other feelings, and finding ways to honor your loved one.

Destructive Ways to Cope

Most would agree letting grief and stress take over isn’t the best solution. Not so constructive ways to cope with the stress in your life right now might include:

Stress has been linked to a number of health conditions including diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, headaches and ulcers.  

Healthy Ways to Cope

Besides paying attention to your nutrition, exercising regularly and getting adequate sleep, here are healthy ways you can deal with and get through this difficult time.

Writing might be one good way to help you come to terms with your loss. Expressing deep emotions can ease the grief. Those who suppress their feelings might be increasing muscle tension, heart rate and blood pressure. Writing is good because it boosts mood and the sense of well-being as well as immunity.

Writing can be therapeutic. In one study, scientists instructed some participants to write about a difficult event while control participants were instructed to write about an interesting life event. Researchers who assessed right after the assignment and one week later found that the first group were “emotionally stronger, less upset, and less cognitively avoidant about the particular difficult life event they wrote about.” Scientists believe that writing can support an individual’s emotional functioning and help a person cope with stressful events.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Pattisapu VK, Hao H, Liu Y, et al. Sex- and Age-Based Temporal Trends in Takotsubo Syndrome Incidence in the United StatesJ Am Heart Assoc. 2021;10(20):e019583. doi:10.1161/JAHA.120.019583

  2. Stapleton CM, Zhang H, Berman JS. The Event-Specific Benefits of Writing About a Difficult Life ExperienceEur J Psychol. 2021;17(1):53-69. Published 2021 Feb 26. doi:10.5964/ejop.2089

By Barbara Field
Barbara is a writer and speaker who is passionate about mental health, overall wellness, and women's issues.